The defending champion Atlanta Silverbacks slid their roster under the W-League’s doormat last weekend just as the new season shifted into gear. The new lineup sees the loss of a few key players, but head coach Chris Adams says he’s pleased with the return of nine of last year’s starting eleven, calling them “one of the most competitive groups I’ve ever been around.” Adams also brings in a crop of young talent to address a few positional needs in the back while keeping fresh legs on tap for the numerous back-to-backs this season. Predominantly a mixture of Georgia natives or those that played here collegiately, Adams combed the state from the coastal plains to the North Georgia mountains with a sharp focus on young, under-the-radar players to fill out his lineup.
With that, here are your returning starters from last season’s W-League Champions:
Tiffini Turpin – Forward
The Silverbacks’ regular season points leader in her first year with the club, Turpin scored 6 goals with 1 assist for 15 points and added one more goal in a 3-2 playoff victory over the NJ Wildcats. Turpin was an All-Conference selection in Conference USA for 2011, the third selection of her career with the University of Alabama at Birmingham. A tireless worker, she started every game in her 4-year college career, going out on a high note as she scored a hat trick in her final appearance. Apropos for someone whose school mascot is a “Blazer”, Turpin burns up the right flank, leaving charred defenders in her wake as she zeros in on the goal mouth with the single-minded determination of a guided missile. Her intense, competitive on-field persona ironically garner Turpin the “bulldog” moniker in spite of a number of University of Georgia teammates surrounding her.
Alexa Newfield – Midfield
A legend after only two seasons at the University of Georgia, Newfield will probably have a stadium and several bulldogs named after her by the end of her college career. A two-time All-SEC first team selection, in 2011, she led the conference in Shots, Shots per Game, Points, Points per Game, Goals, Goals per Game and Game-Winning Goals yet missed out on Player of the Year to outgoing South Carolina senior Kayla Grimsley. It’s unlikely I’ll get far trying to push the nickname Glaucomus volans on Newfield, but those that have seen this “Southern Flying Squirrel” play will understand the analogy to Newfield’s manic, cutting dribbles which take her all over the field and straight through walls of defenders. By no means a large player, Newfield displays extraordinary athleticism and physicality when on the ball, often drawing fouls from frustrated defenders which set up another of her many talents. A dead-ball specialist, Newfield gets tremendous movement and pace on her free kicks, while her penalty kicks are as guaranteed as death and taxes. Finishing third on the Silverbacks last season with 4 goals and 2 assists for 10 points in only 7 games, Lex also added the decisive score against Charlotte in the Eastern Conference Championship as well as a PK in the final. Atlanta fans received a scare early this spring when Newfield underwent surgery for a torn meniscus, but Adams says she’ll be ready to go for opening day.
Rebecca Nolin – Midfield
One of three co-captains last season, Nolin is a midfield general with exceptional distribution and vision as well as a reputation for being a tough, no-nonsense defender. A vocal leader on the team, Adams says, “she doesn’t take a play off as a player and she doesn’t let her players take a play off. “ A break to join the Atlanta Beat in 2010 is the only interruption in Nolin’s service over a six-year span with the Silverbacks. “Becks” also won a championship at the collegiate level with Kennesaw State University when they won the Division II National Championship in 2003. One of several players from England, she played with Chelsea Ladies FC before coming to KSU and later joining the KSU coaching staff in 2010.
Jamie Pollock – Midfield
An over-looked, dependable fulcrum in the midfield, Pollock’s stats won’t reflect much offensively, but she’s a driving force for both the Silverbacks and the University of Georgia. Although positioned out wide in the Silverbacks’ formation, Pollock generally tends to pinch into the center more where she can better affect the tempo and distribution. An All-SEC First Team performance as a senior for the Bulldogs earned Pollock a call from Kennesaw to play with the Beat for the ill-fated 2012 season. Known for her incredible work rate, Pollock started nearly every game she played for the university over her four-year career, earning both the Heart & Soul and Coaches’ Awards at the end of her last season.
Ronda Brooks – Center Back
Brooks attended Auburn University and played from 2003 to 2005. She was named to the All-SEC First Team in 2004 and 2005. Another of the Silverbacks’ triumvirate of captains last season, Brooks has been a member of the team since the beginning of their five straight division titles in 2007. Not just a bruising center back, Adams says Brooks also exhibits great communication in the back and a smooth touch in possession.
Leilani Huntley – Center Back
The second half of the center back tandem which posted seven shutouts through the regular season, Huntley is a hard-working defender who matches up well in 1-v-1’s. She played for Georgia State University from 2008 to 2011, where she majored in Hospitality Management. Southern Division opponents aren’t likely to receive much hospitality from the defender, but at least they can expect clean sheets.
Bailey Powell – Right Back
Having just finished her career with the University of Georgia, Powell returns to take up the right back position for her third season with the Silverbacks. Standing 5’11”, Powell is a force to be reckoned with in the box as well as bringing a big boot for deep set pieces. One of only three starters to play every minute of the team’s ten regular season games, Powell also contributed offensively with a goal and an assist each.
Stacy Balaam – Left Back, Midfield
Balaam performed admirably in her first season with the Silverbacks as an impromptu midfielder-turned-outside-back. She played at the University of Montevallo in Alabama from 2005 to 2008, leaving the school ranked fifth in goals (25), first in assists (50) and tied for first on points with 100. A 2-time Daktronics All-American (first team in 2007, third team in 2008), Balaam is currently an assistant coach under Adams at North Georgia College. An influx of outside backs this season should see her return to her more-favored midfield role.
Ashley Baker – Goalkeeper
Currently on the England U-23 squad, Baker started against and beat the US in the Four Nations Tournament in La Manga this March. Her mid-table SEC stats for the University of Georgia are deceptive, but her W-League performance last year is unquestionable: Tied for second in Goals Against, Goals Against Average and Wins, while leading the league in Shutouts. A vocal organizer and fearless shot-stopper with a physical, confident presence in the box, Baker earned an All-Conference Team selection in her first season with the Silverbacks in 2011.
Atlanta fans will have reached the end of this list and experienced a bit of anxiety already as goal-scoring dynamo Megan Tomlinson’s name is conspicuously absent. Tomlinson scored six times in the regular season before going ape in the post-season with five goals in as many games. With a high-pressure, run-n-gun offense his recipe for success, Adams will need to bring some deadly weapons to the front line to replace the former captain. So the big question for the Simian Nation is, who will roll up their shirt-sleeves and take Tomlinson’s place spearheading the Silverback Attack this year? Here are the new additions looking to make a big impact on this season’s team…
Kristin Burton – Forward
The passing mention of her name causes Peach Belt Conference goalkeepers to sob uncontrollably and break out in hives. Burton attended Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Georgia from 2006 to 2009 where she dismantled the PBC at will, leading the conference in goals and points all four seasons. She was the Conference Player of the Year in 2006, 2008 and 2009, after which AASU retired her #17 jersey. Sixth all-time in Division II for Career Total Points and seventh in Career Goals, Burton made a deep run in tryouts for the Beat, but was cut just short of the final selections. The PBC all-time leader in Career Goals (95) and Total Points (225), her name is mentioned 63 times in the PBC Women’s Soccer Records pdf, including the one time they misspelled her name. Having just completed PT school, Adams says she’ll be a tough competitor as well as a natural goal-scorer.
Chloe Roberts – Forward
The reigning Division II Player of the Year from the University of North Alabama and a 3-time All-American, Roberts led the Gulf South Conference with 47 points from 16 goals and 15 assists in what must’ve been considered an under-achieving year by her standards. A product of the England youth national teams, she immediately declared her intentions upon arrival stateside with a gaudy 32 goals and 15 assists for 79 points in 24 games freshman year. Her 2010 campaign was no less impressive netting 28 goals and 11 assists for 67 points in three fewer games. Roberts’ time in the US was preceded by a stint at Plymouth Argyle LFC in England’s 4th Division where she scored a mythic 50 goals in all competitions including 8 goals in one game. Early indications are Roberts will lead the attack up top with Burton and Turpin out wide.
Elizabeth Guess – Forward
A familiar name from the 2010 edition, Adams is happy to welcome the Athens, Georgia native back, saying Guess “scores goals in her sleep.” Guess brings some winning pedigree of her own to the table with bookend championship seasons as a University of North Carolina Tar Heel from 2003 to 2006. Although big names O’Reilly, Chalupny and Tarpley are more recognizable from those glory days, “Libby” contributed an uncanny knack for scoring in the clutch, with 17 of her 32 goals coming during the team’s post-season runs. As a senior, she scored the game-winning goals in the 2006 ACC Tournament Semi-Final and Final, landing tournament MVP honors as a result. Her collegiate career numbers (32 goals, 35 assists, 99 total points) are good enough to rank her #27, 28, and 26 respectively on UNC’s all-time charts.
Emily Dover – Forward
Dover played for Adams at North Georgia College during the 2010 and 2011 seasons after a two-year spell at Georgia State. Her 2011 Co-Player of the Year performance in the Peach Belt Conference boasted 16 goals in 20 games, ninth best in Division II, and 5 assists for 37 points in 20 games. Although Dover may not feature as a starter, Adams says her continued improvement has been impressive and should net her some minutes on the front line.
Rachel Garcia – Forward
Garcia is finishing her junior year at Georgia powerhouse Greater Atlanta Christian School and has committed to the University of Georgia for the 2013 season. The striker propelled her team to the State AA Championship this week on the strength of a first-half hat trick in the semi-final. Currently listed in the TopDrawerSoccer Top 150 Players to Watch, Garcia shows great skill and composure in possession as well as a killer instinct in front of goal. Adams will get her integrated into the Silverbacks’ system at an early age and sees Garcia as a long-term investment for the team with the potential to pay dividends in the same way as Newfield, who also joined the team as a high school senior.
Nicole Locandro – Midfield
The league-maximum fifth player from UGA, Locandro was a solid performer for the Bulldogs last season, starting every game for the team. At 5’10”, she’s a towering presence just in front of the back four. Although primarily a defensive mid, Locandro is not afraid to push up into the attack if a withdrawing defense presents the opportunity. Her rocket-shot goal from 25 yards out was the only offense Georgia could mount against a championship final-bound Duke in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Having both Nolin and Locandro available gives Adams the flexibility to tinker with a 4-2-3-1 versus the team’s usual 4-3-3 setup.
Nikki Hill – Defender
Right Back for the Canadian U-20 National Team and the University of Georgia, Hill likely will take the same position or cede to Powell and try her hand at left back. Following the season, Hill has the U20 Women’s World Cup to look forward to, but Adams doesn’t anticipate she’ll miss too much time for training camps. Although she gets up in support of the attack occasionally, don’t expect Hill to be aggressively nipping at the midfielders’ ankles like the next two.
Casey Smith – Defender
Another North Georgia College grad, Smith led Division II in assists for 2010 and holds the Peach Belt Conference record for career assists with 44. Good stats if you’re a midfielder, but she’s a defender. Needless to say, Smith is keen to poke her nose past the center line and will certainly present another layer in the Silverbacks’ multi-faceted attack. In the 2008 season, she won both Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week honors on separate occasions. Also finished her career with 13 goals for a total of 70 points and an average of .99 Points Per Game.
Kansas Bayly – Defender
Currently attending Columbus State, Bayly scored six goals for the team as a defender, earning Peach Belt Conference Co-Player of the Year honors in the process along with Silverback teammate Emily Dover. She’ll compete with Nikki Hill and Casey Smith for the outside back positions.
Connie Organ – Goalkeeper
A freshman goalkeeper for the University of Central Florida, Organ will play the understudy role behind Ashley Baker this season. In spite of her 6’0″ frame, Organ is an athletic, mobile goalkeeper who could prove just as difficult a roadblock as Baker. The Atlanta native should expect to see a few starts for the Silverbacks while Baker is away on international duty.
With Charlotte already out to an early lead after two division games last weekend and less than a week to prepare, some of these players will be getting a baptism by fire this Friday as the team welcomes Central South Carolina Cobras for a showdown between the rainbow-colored seats of Silverback Park this Friday.
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